Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong

Protesters parade a large cut out of the head of C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong's Beijing-backed CEO, on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014, in Hong Kong.Hong Kong has free speech and economic rights the rest of China is denied, but those may be cut off by the Chinese Communist Party, which wants to silence the citizens of the autonomous city – both rich and poor – who are marching to demand more democracy.

Protesters parade an oversized cut-out of the head of C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong's Beijing-backed CEO.
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China spends fortunes censoring the press and Internet access, but since joining the nation in 1997 after more than a century as a British colony, the city was granted a bill of rights and promised autonomy except for matters of defense and diplomacy. In recent days, Hong Kong citizens have protested for direct control of elections for the leader of their city in 2017 without interference from Beijing, which wants to approve candidates ahead of the vote.

These protests have drawn tens of thousands of people from all walks of life in Hong Kong, who for years have feared their rights are eroding as the mainland exerts more business influence. Police in Hong Kong have used at least 87 tear gas grenades responding to the protests, injuring “many citizens and at least three members of the press” said a blog Monday from the Hong Kong Journalists Association condemning the crackdown. The association’s annual report on press freedom said Hong Kong’s press freedom is at its darkest level in decades and that censorship is likely to get worse.

— Venus Wu (@wu_venus)

Pro-democracy activists also flooded the streets of Hong Kong in July calling for more autonomy to nominate candidates for elections of their city’s leader, known as the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

Protesters gather in the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on Sept. 30, 2014, in Hong Kong.Beijing wants to silence the protesters before the rest of China echoes Hong Kong’s cries for democratic reforms, says Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at The Brookings Institution think tank. China’s new President Xi Jinping “is not famous for media freedom, ” but it is unclear whether he will take away rights from Hong Kong to silence dissent, he says.

“What happens in Hong Kong today could happen nationwide tomorrow, ” Li says. “Hong Kong’s general public is taking place in this protest. Lots of economic classes are involved, especially the low classes. Beijing will have a harder time convincing people the protests are instigated by a Western conspiracy.”

Xi’s censorship is in conflict with his aims to keep China on track to become the world’s largest economy by the 2020s. Hong Kong is a financial jewel for China, East Asia and the world, so Beijing will be careful about disturbing freedoms that keep its citizens placated and Internet access that keeps it connected with global networks and financial partners, Li says.

“That is the dilemma – they cannot go too far to crack down on the protests, ” he says. “Hong Kong residents want a real democracy, rule of law and civil liberties.”

[ALSO: China Faces Tricky Balance in Hong Kong's Protests]

Hot Hashtag: #HandsUpDontShoot HK #OccupyCentral protesters msg to police inspired by Ferguson. Photo via @leungfaye

— Femi Oke (@FemiOke)
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